The Open Nature of Children and The Beauty of Unsupervised Play

Watching children makes you realise just how pure and open we all come into the world. When I was a child, I played outside unsupervised every single night with my two younger brothers and between seven and ten other children. I didn’t ever think through if they were the right friends for me, they were chosen by pure circumstance and convenience – they were all neighbours whose houses backed on to the same back alley, and so we were all thrown together.

Over the years we had our fall outs, we took sides and we argued, but for the most part, we played happily and inclusively, sorting all disputes between ourselves. Our parents didn’t encourage telling tales, and we didn’t want to leave our play to waste time going home to “tell” on each other. When there was a serious accident – like the time we played hide and seek and I hid under a bush of stinging nettles, or the time one girl fell over and broke her arm, we all rallied together and took the injured child straight home to be cared for. We never considered doing anything otherwise, always instinctively knowing when we needed help.

Flash forward twenty or so years.

Our garden fence has blown down in the recent winds, and my three year old son went out one afternoon to discover our new neighbours eight year old son leaning over the wall, peering into our garden. It took about five minutes of cautious, quiet words exchanged between them slowly becoming more and more animated, before they were acting like the best friends in the world. Thus commenced two hours of blissful play between them, barely supervised by either set of parents as we went about our business leaving the children to their freedom.

And as their laughter erupted and they played harmoniously and cooperatively together, it suddenly struck me. There had been no questions, with the exception of “Do you like snails?” and “What’s your name?” No interview to check that this was the type of person they wanted to spend their time with, no passing criteria whatsoever. Just pure and open acceptance and joy at meeting one another.

And I felt sad. Because I realised that somewhere along the journey into adulthood, I had lost that openness. I’m friendly and polite to everyone I meet, but at some point along the way I began filtering my friends. I asked more questions and silently pondered if this was a person I wanted to spend my precious time with, if we had enough in common, if we shared the same morals and views on life. And yes, I do have some absolutely amazing and lovely friends, women who bring positivity and enrichment to my life, who do indeed share a very similar outlook on life and parenting to me (you know who you are!) but I wonder how many relationships I’ve missed out on, how many bonds could have been forged but were missed because I was too closed off, too discriminating, and too focused on difference rather than finding the common ground that seems to come so naturally to our children.

Perhaps opening up my bubble and emerging into the outside world could bring strength and positive new insights, and challenge me to become a better and more accepting person? Perhaps focusing on the positives and the things we DO have in common is really what matters?

Perhaps we can never grow into the person we are capable of being if we shut doors and see the faults, rather than emerge into the light and offer a friendly shoulder to cry on, a hand through the darkness and a listening ear?

Perhaps it’s OK that we disagree on some things, because we can always find common ground somewhere, and though it may be hidden deep, making the effort to find it would bring about the change to make the world a more loving place?

Perhaps.

I think so. And I have my child and his pure and unclouded outlook on life to thank for showing me that.

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3 thoughts on “The Open Nature of Children and The Beauty of Unsupervised Play”

  1. In recent months, my son and I joined a local homeschooling group. It’s mainly a social group and while I spend the vast majority of our meeting time following my son rather than socializing, I’ve realized that in some ways I have the kid-like tendency that you describe. I’m just looking for friendly company. I don’t have much of an agenda as to what topics we discuss, I just enjoy talking to other adults. And it’s such a pleasure to see my son begin to remember the other kids and look forward to seeing them. I do so miss that neighborly play. It was a small part of my youth since we moved around a lot and completely vacant from our urban life-style. Perhaps I’ve got too high hopes, but a do hope that my son and I have found a little community to fill that gap in our lives.

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